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Get a tasty treat out of your garden, no matter how small

By Features Reporter

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At the start of May we celebrated National Gardening Week as it’s the perfect time to really get going in our gardens and enjoy the better weather as our gardens really burst into bloom.

The theme for this year’s National Gardening Week was Edible Britain, encouraging everyone to get growing tasty fruit and veg, no matter how small an outdoor space you have available.

A small container is a great spot to grow mixed herbs.
A small container is a great spot to grow mixed herbs.

There’s an opportunity to grow even if you only have window space! So if you’re new to gardening, where do you start?

Create a container garden

Growing in containers is a great way to experiment with fruit and veg – so this is a perfect option for newbies. If you don’t feel brave enough to grow from seed, Simpsons stocks many tender plant options that are ready just to plant straight into your container.

Even if you’re short of outdoor space, that doesn’t mean you have to do without home-grown vegetables. There are lots of fruit and veg that will do brilliantly in containers, whether it’s a window box, grow bags or terracotta pots.

Container growing has many advantages, including perfect soil, easy planting and your crops are kept well out of reach of slugs. There are lots of innovative and space-saving ideas around to help you get started – look out for wall-hung planters, vertically stacked planters and even planters that attach to drain pipes.

Make the most of your space with multi-layered pots.
Make the most of your space with multi-layered pots.

Golden rules for fruit and veg containers

There’s a huge range of veg you can try in containers, from herbs and salad leaves to tomatoes, chard, beetroot and even climbing French beans, which can be trained up bamboo canes. Here are five golden rules for a summer of plenty from your patio:

  1. Use the largest containers you can fit in the space you have available. The more room veg roots have, the happier they’ll be (you can pack more veg into larger pots, too), so always buy the biggest containers you have room for. But don’t worry – you can plant in small containers and still get great results. Salads do really well in any sized container.
  2. Water, water and water some more. Plants in pots are completely reliant on you for water supplies. Water container-grown veg every day – twice a day in hot spells. However, also be careful not to over water.
  3. Feed, feed and feed some more. After the first six to eight weeks compost runs out of nutrients, so add weekly liquid feeds to your watering routine.
  4. Re-sow fast-growing crops every month. Keep picking continuously by sowing new containers of fast-growing salads, herbs, and quick crops such as beetroot and turnips once a month. This will keep your supply of tasty goodies going all summer long.
  5. Choose the right varieties. Look for the words ‘container veg’ or ‘patio veg’ on seed packets. Special varieties like Courgette ‘Patio Star’ and Aubergine ‘Ophelia’ will crop brilliantly in pots.
Use a hanging basket to grow herbs.
Use a hanging basket to grow herbs.

Create an edible hanging basket

As well as planting containers, an edible hanging basket is a clever way to get a little more produce out of your garden – especially if you’re short of space. Lots of types of fruit and veg do better raised off the ground: strawberries, for example, are kept well away from slugs, so you get to pick your crop unmunched and perfect.

Like flower-planted hanging baskets, edible hanging baskets can be planted with a mix of different edibles, mixing foliage (herbs) and fruits together. This will create an amazing mix of things to eat in the same basket as well as a vibrant display of contrasting plants. You can even create an ‘instant dish’ by planting complementary veg together, like tomato and basil for all the ingredients you need to make a flavoursome Mediterranean sauce.

Why not combine your favourite herbs for putting on the barbecue, adding to cocktails or herbs that you can add to salads? Plants such as basil, coriander or chives are a great option to have hanging just outside the kitchen to add to dishes as and when required.

Growing strawberries in hanging baskets will keep the slugs away.
Growing strawberries in hanging baskets will keep the slugs away.

You’ll find everything you need to create an edible hanging basket at Simpsons, from the baskets themselves to liners, compost, water-retaining gel to cut down on the watering workload, and of course plants and seeds. Here are some great varieties to try growing up in the air this year:

  • Tumbling tomatoes cascade fetchingly in jewels of red and yellow. Choose a container variety like ‘Tumbling Tom Red’. Keep well-watered and feed with liquid fertiliser once a week.
  • Chillies are Mexican firecrackers which love a hot, dry spot and don’t mind restricted roots.
  • Peas: mangetout peas and dwarf types like ‘Bingo’ or ‘Little Marvel’ do exceptionally well in hanging baskets and don’t need any support. Choose a larger basket and water well.
  • Strawberries: fill a hanging basket with two or three strawberry plants and they’ll flow joyously over the edge.
  • Herbs: Mediterranean herbs love conditions in hanging baskets. Hang your basket right by the back door for easy picking. Herbs that do well in hanging baskets include thyme, marjoram, basil and summer savory.

What else to look forward to this month…

Rhododendrons and azaleas will be coming into bloom this month. Enjoy the burst of colour these stunning plants bring to our gardens. Make sure you continue to feed your rhodies and azaleas with an ericaceous feed, which will help give them lots of energy to bloom and bloom for longer.

Rhododendrons will come into bloom this month.
Rhododendrons will come into bloom this month.

Get ready for Chelsea… Later this month the most famous garden show in the country hits town. While it’s a great opportunity to look at the amazing show gardens and trends on offer, it’s also a reminder for us all to appreciate our own gardens and take a bit of time out of our busy schedules to enjoy our own surroundings.

Next month we hope to bring you the best from Chelsea and how to create some of the key looks and designs with what’s on offer in store.

Top garden tips for May

  • Protect tender plants from the risk of late frosts. Summer bedding can be planted out once the risk has passed.
  • Deadhead tulips and daffodils then lift and divide overcrowded clumps of spring-flowering bulbs.
  • Take softwood cuttings of tender perennials such as fuchsia to provide new plants later in the year.
  • Divide hostas as they come into growth.
  • Harden off plants grown from seed and cuttings by gradually leaving outside for 10 to 14 days before planting out permanently.
  • Thin out direct sowings of veggies and hardy annuals.
  • Liquid feed plants in containers every two to four weeks and keep all containers well watered.
  • Regularly hoe borders and beds to prevent weeds from spreading and seeding.
  • Tie and train sweet peas as they grow up their supports to encourage growth.
  • Look out for vine weevil, aphids and other pests and treat appropriately.
  • Start to mow weekly – adding clippings to your compost heap.

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